Caffeine: the most potent artificial intelligence drink!

Caffeine: the most potent artificial intelligence drink!
Deep in the Lair of the Perpetually Curious Fox

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Pica pica: the Eurasian magpie

One for Sorrow
Two for joy
Three for a girl
Four for a boy
Five for silver
Six for gold
Seven for a secret never to be told
Eight for a wish
Nine for a kiss
Ten a surprise you should be careful not to miss
Eleven for health
Twelve for wealth
Thirteen beware it's the devil himself.
                                                                              - one of the magpie rhyme from the British Isles
Bill and Ben, the two juvenile magpies who resides in the spruce trees in the backyard, along with Squirrel Pop the Red Squirrel
I spent an hour this morning watching my two young friends, Bill and Ben the Magpies, enjoying their jackpot of deer trimmings from my current butchering, and call the rest of their clan to share the bounty. Or more correctly, their tittering/tiding/murder/gulp/charm of magpies brothers and sisters. 

Its wonderful how one can observe so much when one slows down, switch off all conscious human concerns, and just watch the World outside the Windows (pun intended, for Windows OS based readers). 
I managed to determine that Bill and Ben's clan consist of 7 magpies, with a big, old, scarred-beaked elder whom I named "Captain Ahab". The said elder bird is quite a grumpy, but fair creature. He'd chase the others away from the plastic tub, squawking away, flapping his wings and strut around, until all the clan members have arrived; upon which he'd proceed to start pecking away and apportion the meats for all attending! Captain Ahab, of course, remained perched on the edge of the tub and picked the best bits for himself. The rest of the family then starts Gulping away at the food, alternating between filling their bellies and cutting it into manageable flight-friendly pieces and flying away to stash them into their usual caches.

They always leave at least 3 or 4 family members guarding the main tub - when Captain Ahab flies off to stash his favourite best bit loaded with deer suet, in to avoid rival clans from stealing their good bounty. When a renegade magpie flies in, the rest would squawk and flap and make such a din to discourage the interloper, occasionally even dive-bombing to perform a real-life "Angry Birds" demo LOL. Of course, the interlopers always scatter when Captain Ahab is at the helm, for he's quite the fighter and big for a magpie. 

I began to notice Bill and Ben in June, as fledglings who always hung around together in a pair, when they can hardly fly very far. They used to quite annoy the neighbour's dog, Tucker, with their endless game of teasing her, being just out of reach of Tucker's snapping jaws, while happily flying/hopping off with Tucker's dinner. Even now, as yearling magpies, they kinda hung around in the back garden a lot, and learn to mimic Tucker's doggish whine (which what attracted me to study them in the first place). And they, clever as they are, began to study me

Some people would consider magpies, and their cousins crows and ravens, dirty, garbage-eating animals only deserving to be shot; but to me they are worthy of respect. No, I'm not spouting PETA mantra or some Hippie-Occupy-Leftwing agenda; just more of an observation of how much perishable organic trash that are pre-processed by these winged recyclers before other smaller critters reduce it to chemical legoes useful for plants. In fact, if my memory serves me right, the Corvids are quite responsible for nitrogen dispersal in the woods, as they clean up after cougar, bear and wolf kills.
Plus it's kinda hilarious watching them birdies stashing away bits of deer meat in the snow in the neighbour's garden, perhaps as a repayment for their misdeeds of stealing Tucker's food several months before. There's a reason why magpies are so prevalent in human culture and superstition, as well as providing inspiration for wonderful music. Here's Rossini's "The Thieving Magpies Overture" for your pleasure

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